There is a Sierra Leonean proverb that states 'An Okra tree cannot grow longer than its owner'. I didn't want to be that disobedient okra tree that challenges what I was meant to believe in and uphold. I was meant to believe everything I am told. I was not meant to question things. Such attitude is considered a grave disobedience. I wanted to be the good child.

I was told Female Circumcision was best for girls and women. I believed it because my Mother and aunties said it was. I had even imagined how I will get my daughter circumcised once I get one. Raising a voice against it would be a grave sin which could result in punishment from God. It is considered a 'Sunnah' in my culture. Reported to have been practiced during the days of prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him). Challenging female genital cutting was like challenging the very reason for my existence; our dear culture. So strong and so powerful.

I was also held back by the thoughts of my Mother who strongly believes in it. I was concerned about embarrassing her. A lovely woman who gave me nothing but genuine love. How was I going to challenge her ideas about FGM/C? How was I going to challenge what was meant to be my own beliefs? I thought about this for a long time. But there was this strong and growing feeling that kept pushing me to challenge it. Perhaps it was the same feeling that drew me towards journalism.

When our female journalists association agreed to celebrate the International day of Zero tolerance to FGM on February 6th, with the theme 'The role of the media in the FGM debate', It was clear we were ready to unleash the secrecy embedded in the practice itself. We were going to have a series of programmes that whole week. Colleagues in the broadcast media were going to do a radio discussion programme bringing both parties to the debate to discuss the practice. I offered to write an opinion piece on the topic.

When I told my Mother I had written against 'the Bondo society' (FGM/C initiating group) and It would be published in few days. She was not happy. She said few words. 'It is our culture and I don't expect you to speak up against it.' I smiled at her and in a cunning but mild way I said, 'Things change Mama. You cant tell me things are the same today as your time. Everyday you remind us about how lucky we are to be born in Freetown and at this time. Similarly, FGM belongs to the past. We are moving forward.' Mama didn't reply instantly. Taking a spoonful of the rice and cassava leaf she was eating, she looked at me like the tiny baby she remembered delivering on the day I was born and said 'You are going to have it hard with the 'Soweis' (FGM initiators). I am only warning you to be careful. You are still a small girl.' I didn't say a word again. My mind was made up.

My article was published. Since then I started writing about other issues affecting women that were underreported in the media. Since that moment, I realised I was opened to a new world and a new me. I was no longer worried about upholding a belief that were detrimental to humanity. I also learnt that things that everyone does or believes in are not necessarily the right things. Few people can still be on the right side of a debate. I also learnt to speak my truth quietly but clearly with a strong conviction on my stance as an individual. I started to question other things I had believed in in the past.

Female circumcision is always a derilous path to thread in the Sierra Leone community. Even among the elites of our society, there are those who support the practice in private and will never challenge it in public. People just dont see the wrong in it even as young girls continue to suffer from the practice. Challenging FGM/C in public could lead to abuse from members of the public who sometimes think the campaigner may have either been brainwashed by foreigners or paid to destroy our 'almighty culture'. I have experienced that many times. But that has not deter me.

Personally, for me to have opened up discussion on female circumcision and to have openly made my stance clear, was a real empowerment to me and I believe to many other women. I felt liberated. It was the beginning of a new era in my life.

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Comments

Hello Mkandeh

Speaking up is an issue in most community. I firmly agree with you on the different reasons why those who feel the 'almighty culture' is wrong can't speak. The fear of hurting mama or mother and of going against her is for sure a real problem. What do you think about beginning any of such change with our mothers before the entire community?

I salute your efforts. May you continue in this great struggle while bearing in mind that the media is one of the strong weapons of change.

Masalien's

Hi Masalien's,

Thanks for your contribution to this discussion. I do agree with you that we should include sensitizing our Mothers and all families supporting practices that are detrimental to girls and women. Charity begins at home.

Thanks again

M

MS Kandeh

English:

 Hello Mkander!

Thank you for sharing this other shiny Post.

I take more and more taste to read your publications, provided they address relevant topics, developed in a style of a professional journalist and well done! I am particularly referring to the Post about "women and girls in times of conflict."

Yes, no more horrible practice that mutilate young women and girls under pretext of circumcision and the name of any religion or culture! The answer to those that encourage female circumcision of women and girls in the name of religion is this: It was Abraham, the patriarch of the three great monotheistic religions who was circumcised; not his wives Sarah Agar or Keturah nor any of his daughters. The justification for circumcision is in the book of Genesis 17: 10-14; I quote: “

« … You and your descendants must all agree to circumcise every male among you. From now on you must circumcise every baby boy when he is eight days old, including slaves born in your homes and slaves bought from foreigners. This will show that there is a convent between you and me. Each one must be circumcised and this will be a physical sign to show that my covenant with you is everlasting. Any male who has not been circumcised will no longer be considered one of my people because he has not kept the covenant with me. …”

Circumcision of women is anything but a dramatic excision of the clitoris, genital mutilation with all the consequences it entails: the risk of infection and death, difficult births, painful intercourse, vaginal deformity giving the appearance of a scar wound or a breast cancer.

Yes, we must have the courage to stand up against the retrograde practices from where they come: our respected people, religious, community and even our parents; provided that these practices violate the fundamental freedoms and human rights. We are no longer in the era of blind submission and loose. As Human rights activists, we must ALL (men and women), get up, stand together to denounce any retrograde practice of violating the most basic human rights!

However we must have at heart the customs are not retrograde. The main criterion for finding the customs and usages to fight is this: "the customs that violate human rights"!

Hats off to you Mrs. MKANDER and your association of women journalists. Keep fighting and tackle other sensitive topics. The whole Community of World Pulse Women and its allies are behind you!

Finally, I suspect that your dear Mother, convinced by the precepts of 'the Bondo society' (FGM / C initiating event group), have not made done you ... in your young age.

Have a good day MKANDER.

Joseph-Jacques.-  

French:

 Bonjour MKANDEH!

Merci de nous avoir partagé cet autre brillant Post.

Je prends de plus en plus goût à lire vos publications, étant entendu qu’ils traitent des sujets pertinents, développés dans un style d’une journaliste professionnelle au bagage intellectuel à la fois bien plein et bien fait ! Je fais notamment allusion au Post concernant « les femmes et les filles en périodes de conflits ».

Oui, il n’y a pas plus horrible pratique  que celle de mutiler les sexes des femmes des jeunes et des jeunes filles sous prétexte de circoncision et au nom d’une quelconque religion ou  d’une culture !

 La réponse à donner à celles ou ceux qui qui encouragent l’excision des femmes et des petites filles au nom de la religion est celle-ci : Ce fut Abraham, le Patriarche des trois grandes religions monothéistes qui fut circoncis, et aucunement sa femme Sarah, Agar, Ketura ; ni aucune de ses filles. La justification de la circoncision se trouve dans le livre de  GENÈSE 17:10-14 ; je cite : « “ C’est ici mon alliance, que vous garderez entre moi et vous, et ta postérité après toi: tout mâle parmi vous sera circoncis.  Vous vous circoncirez ; et ce sera un signe d’alliance entre moi et vous. À l’âge de huit jours, tout mâle parmi vous sera circoncis, selon vos générations, qu’il soit né dans la maison, ou qu’il soit acquis à prix d’argent de tout fils d’étranger, sans appartenir à ta race. On devra circoncire celui qui est né dans la maison et celui qui est acquis à prix d’argent ; et mon alliance sera dans votre chaire une alliance perpétuelle. Un mâle incirconcis, qui n’aura pas été circoncis dans sa chair, sera exterminé du milieu de son peuple : il aura violé mon alliance. … »

La circoncision des femmes n’est autre chose qu’une dramatique excision du clitoris, une mutilation génitale avec toutes les conséquences qu’elle comporte : risque d’infection et de mort, accouchements difficiles, rapports sexuels douloureux, déformation du vagin donnant l’aspect d’une cicatrice de plaie, d’un cancer du sein.

Oui, il faut avoir le courage de nous lever contre les pratiques rétrogrades d’où qu’elles viennent : des personnes qu’on respecte, des religieux, de la communauté et même des parents ; pour autant que ces pratiques violent les libertés et droits fondamentaux de l’Homme. Nous ne sommes plus à l’époque de la soumission aveugle et lâche. Activistes des droits humains, nous devons TOUS (Femmes et Hommes), nous lever, nous tenir les coudes pour dénoncer toute pratique rétrograde de violation des droits humains les plus fondamentaux !

Cependant nous devons avoir à cœur  que les coutumes ne sont pas toues rétrogrades. Le principal critère pour dénicher les coutumes et usages à combattre est celui-ci : « les coutumes qui violent les droits humains » !

Coup de chapeau à vous Madame MKANDER, ainsi qu’à votre association de femmes journalistes. Continuez votre combat et abordez d’autres thèmes sensibles. Toute la Communauté des Femmes de World Pulse et leurs alliés sommes derrière vous !

Enfin, Je me doute que votre chère Maman, convaincue par les préceptes de 'the Bondo society' (FGM/C initiating group), ne vous aie pas fait…  dans votre jeune âge.

Bonne journée à vous.

Joseph-Jacques.-